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'A Bolder Way Forward' seeks to holistically achieve gender equality in Utah

 A group of women sitting on a staircase together, smiling.
Joel Muniz

Early last year, Dr. Susan Madsen was feeling restless. As the director of the Utah Women and Leadership Project, she's constantly looking for ways to empower and support girls and women in Utah, but it hasn’t felt like enough. Year after year, she says, Utah ranks badly for women’s equality, with high levels of domestic violence, sexual assault, child sexual abuse and gender-based discrimination.

“If we keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing, it’s going to take us two, three, four decades to make any notable progress,” Madsen said. “And I just said, this is unacceptable.”

Then, on a flight to Costa Rica, she read the book “How Change Happens: Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don’t” by Leslie Crutchfield, and it clicked.

“We have lots of pieces and parts, lots of things happening,” Madsen said, “but we haven’t been putting them together and working together in systems thinking, which is the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

From this, A Bolder Way Forward was created—a framework symbolized as a wheel with eighteen spokes, with each spoke representing a different area of focus for women’s rights, like gender pay gap and health. The wheel also has four “reams” on the outside—sexism, identity, culture, and male allyship—which are issues that permeate every spoke. (An in-depth analysis of the framework can be found on their website.)

 A graphic for A Bolder Way Forward framework. It shows a wheel against an uphill road with potholes, some filled in with programs, efforts and initiatives. The center of the wheel says "helping more Utah women and girls thrive" with sexism, identity, culture and male allyship around the rim. The eighteen spokes are listed in five categories. In education:  finance, higher education attainment, K-12 initiatives. In workplace:  childcare/pre-K, entrepreneurship, gender pay gap, leadership development, organizational strategies and workplace culture, STEM fields, and workforce development.  In health and wellbeing: health across the lifespan and home & family. In community engagement: political representation, boards and commissions, and civic engagement/advocacy. In safety and security: child sexual abuse, domestic violence, poverty/homelessness, sexual assault, and sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination.
Utah Women and Leadership Project
The framework for A Bolder Way Forward.

The Utah Women and Leadership Project will launch A Bolder Way Forward on Friday at Zions Technology Campus in Midvale, with 400 business, nonprofit and political leaders present.

After launch, leaders in each spoke will set measurable goals for 2030 with a checkpoint in 2026. They will also communicate across spokes to ensure they work as a system and not as parts.

There’s still a lot to figure out, but Madsen says Utah can’t afford to wait for change.

“We’re just moving forward finding the answers, figuring out how to coordinate, bringing people on, and we’re okay with messy work—if it leads to greater awareness and change in different ways,” Madsen said.

Their overarching aim is to make Utah a place where more girls and women can thrive. The most important thing, Madsen says, is to keep moving forward.

“I believe that we don't have a choice,” Madsen said. “That if we really care about our kids, our sons and daughters, about our neighbors—if we care truly about seeing Utah be a better place, become a better place, that we don't have a choice. We need to lean in, and we need to make this happen.”

Duck is a general reporter and weekend announcer at UPR, and is studying broadcast journalism and disability studies at USU. They grew up in northern Colorado before moving to Logan in 2018, so the Rocky Mountain life is all they know. Free time is generally spent with their dog, Monty, listening to podcasts, reading or wishing they could be outside more.